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MI -- Locking up David Wright and R.A. Dickey to multi-year deals is the priority. Selling those two on the short-term viability of the Mets is the challenge. Adding significant payroll in the interim is not feasible.
Such were the tenets of Sandy Alderson's state of the team discussion, which the general manager delivered Wednesday alongside a three-pronged plan for the future. Alderson hopes to continue building from his farm system, while retaining Wright and Dickey and carefully upgrading the rest of the roster through free-agent signings or trade acquisitions.
"I'm not prepared to blow up the team and start over again," Alderson said. "I don't think we need to do that. It's unlikely that you'll see any major explosion at Citi Field."
The most significant matter of business awaiting the Mets this winter are negotiations with Wright and Dickey, whom Alderson considers "core players." Both will be entering the option years of their contracts, though amidst significantly different circumstances.
Wright will turn 30 in December, meaning he is squarely in his prime and could command a nine-figure deal on the open market. He also grew up a Mets fan, owns status as one of the most beloved players in franchise history and has publicly stated that he would like to finish his career in Flushing.
But most importantly, Wright wants to win.
Dickey is about to turn 38 and is coming off the best season of his career, in which he pitched through an abdominal tear to deliver a Cy Young-caliber performance. In his case, the Mets must figure out whether they can contend for a title before Dickey's body breaks down for good; knuckleballers tend to be more durable than conventional pitchers, but they are not invincible.
Most importantly, Dickey also wants to win.
That means that as much as negotiating dollars and cents, Alderson must sell the franchise's short-term viability and long-term plan to both Wright and Dickey. Neither player wants to sign an extension only to slog through more losing seasons.
"What I intend to be, in any conversation that relates to the future of the Mets overall, is as honest as I can possibly be," Alderson said. "My message would be, 'Look, I think we're very definitely headed in the right direction. But at the same time, we will not in the near future have unlimited funds.'"
Though Alderson said the team has not finalized a payroll figure for 2013, he expects that number not to stray too far from the roughly $100 million the Mets spent in '12. With $72 million already committed to six players, that means the club will not be able to take on much additional salary without shedding some of their existing contracts. And most of those contracts would be near-impossible to shed.
One strategy, which Alderson is unwilling to implement, would be to trade Wright and Dickey and effectively start from scratch. Another route, which Alderson said would require "caution," would be to deal starting pitching -- potentially even desirable Major League starters such as left-hander Jon Niese -- for power hitting. A third avenue, which Alderson also denounced, would be to ink free agents to significantly back-loaded deals, improving the club in the short-term without immediately increasing the payroll.
Short of pursuing one of those three strategies, the Mets could resign themselves to replicating last winter's strategy: swinging a trade or two while filling in the rest of their roster gaps with relatively cheap free agents. The Mets have clear holes in their outfield and bullpen, and would also like to upgrade their catching situation if possible.
"Anybody who's followed us all year [knows that] we need some Major League-ready players," Alderson said. "There are some positions where we're not strong, either currently at the Major League level or in our system, and we need Major League-ready players."
Regardless of strategy, Alderson has made it clear that he is still viewing the organization through a long-term prism, waiting on the farm to improve before adding payroll. But lengthening the balance sheet will eventually be possible, the GM said, because the Mets are "unquestionably stronger financially" in the wake of ownership's Bernard Madoff litigation settlement.
From that longer-term perspective, Alderson hopes the Mets can ultimately shed their unproductive contracts while expanding payroll at the same time, essentially multiplying the team's ability to compete. But that will not be possible until at least 2014, when the sizeable salaries of Johan Santana and Jason Bay come off the books.
In the interim, the Mets will attempt to lock up Wright and Dickey, while continuing to assess what went wrong in 2012.
"I thought that we had played as well as we had expected coming out of Spring Training," Alderson said, noting that he is in a better position than ever to sign long-term deals and pursue free agents, even if he does not anticipate doing all that immediately. "We didn't play well in the second half. There were a variety of things that happened. From my standpoint, there were many positives, but overall a disappointing year."